A pay raise? A compliment from the boss? The answer may surprise you – 80 to 90% of the workforce wants to be telecommuters.[i]
And why not? As telecommuters, workers are typically more productive, have higher morale, save commuting costs, and have more flexibility for work/life integration.[ii]
What is in it for management and investors?
Is it only real estate cost savings? No, employees who telecommute work more hours and are more productive. The organization is able to to attract and retain the best employees and have a more loyal and motivated workforce.[iii]
If you believe that open office bays with perks, like free espresso and cold breakfast bars, make in-the-office 9-5 seem worthwhile, think again. Open office bays, while they save money due to less square footage per worker, do not provide the ideal environment for focused and productive work. There are simply too many interruptions, as many as one every three minutes, and it can take some workers as long as 23 minutes to return to the original task.[iv]
What about innovation?
Don’t you need all of that on-top-of-each-other togetherness to be innovative? No, it doesn’t always work that way. While empirical research shows that highly innovative companies create collaborative work cultures to freely exchange ideas, read body language, build upon each other’s ideas, and collaborate,[v] there’s actually a diminishing return when there’s too much of it. When employees don’t have a work environment for their “heads-down work,” where they can simply think without interruption, they are less productive. Even the extrovert innovator needs alone time to think.
Complex data sets aren’t analyzed by algorithms in a collaborative working session. Not all experimentation happens in a group setting or an open office environment. Even Steelcase (a company that sells modular office furniture for open office bays) says that most open office environments are poorly designed, not only for heads-down work, but also for collaboration. They advocate that office environments be designed for collaborative work as well as solitude.[vi]
With all of the benefits of telecommuting, why don’t more leaders support it?
Telecommuting is actually growing. According to a recent Gallup study, 37% of U.S. workers report that they have telecommuted, up from 30% ten years ago, and 9% of workers in 1995. Nine percent of workers say that they telecommute more than 10 workdays a month – at least half of all workdays.[vii]
Still, many management teams are more comfortable knowing that most of the workforce is in the office eight to ten hours a day. The objection I hear most often is that if I let my employees work from home, “I will lose control. I won’t know what they are doing, and I won’t be able to get hold of them when I need to.”
Three simple strategies can alleviate these concerns.
The first is to set clear expectations about the company’s purpose and strategies, the work to be done by each team and employee, and the goals and milestones to be achieved. Second, use technology to your advantage. Most knowledge work is conducted on computers and can be done outside of the office. Third, set operating norms for how and when teams work together, where that will work will take place, and how employees will communicate.
In my experience, 25% to 45% of the workforce for a typical firm can work from home three to four day’s week. If, however, a person works on a manufacturing line, in a research lab, or if their job is tied to capital equipment, they need to be at work. If their job requires a lot of face-to-face time, they need to be at work.
You can learn more about the benefits of telecommuting, creating productive, flexible work places and read an award-winning case study in my white paper, “Form Follows Function.” The white paper provides strong evidence to support allowing employees, depending on their job responsibilities, to work from home or be mobile. It also discusses the pitfalls of open office plans and cube farms in terms of lost productivity and privacy. Download “Form Follows Function” by going to my website: www.victorhrconsultant.com and click on the “Free Stuff” Tab.
Do you telecommute? How has it impacted your productivity and job satisfaction? Join the discussion.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and is a Managing Partner of InnovationOne. He consults on talent management, leadership development and coaching, innovation, and other strategic initiatives. Please e-mail Victor at firstname.lastname@example.org or visitwww.victorhrconsultant.com. For innovation visit www.InnovationOne.US.
[iv] Rachel Emma Silverman (Updated Dec. 11, 2012) “Workforce Distractions: Here’s why You Won’t Finish This Article.” The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from www.wsj.com/articles/SB100014241278873243392045781773252223022388.
[v] C. Brooke Dobni, PhD., “Measuring innovation cultures in organizations: The development of a generalized innovation culture construct using exploratory factor analysis,” European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 11, No. 4, 2008, pp. 539-559. Copyright Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1460-1050. DOI 10.1108/14601060810911156.
[vii] Jeffrey M. Jones, (August 19, 2015), “In U.S., Telecommuting for Work Climbs to 37%,” Workplace. Found on line at: www.gallup.com/poll/184649/telecomuting-work-climbs.aspx